23.12.2013 - 23.12.2013 18 °C
When I left home, I had the idea that China was going to be hard work, so that I would need to spend some time over Christmas in a more relaxing environment. I was wrong about China and am not sure that Hanoi is a particularly relaxing place. In any event, I had four nights there: I have been before, so did not seek out the main touristic sites (such as Ha Long Bay or Uncle Ho's museum). Instead, I really only meandered around with little by way of a fixed purpose.
My first day took me into the French Quarter, home of the Opera House (in a wee crescent formed by the Hilton Hotel) and Museum of Vietnamese Revolution. The former was not open and the latter was mainly a collection of photos, news articles and artefacts owned or used by those caught up in the revolution. The guillotine was used by the French at the Hao Lo Prison in Hanoi - I was more than a little disturbed by the wooden container which presently had a rope coiled in it: I could imagine it full of heads.
I can't say I was enthralled by this museum, but I had a much better experience at the Alliance Francaise: I had noticed they had a cafe as I wandered around and since I had had nothing to eat for more than 24 hours, decided to splurge on lunch. The cafe shared a space with a gallery, which had these absorbing images on display
The thing which is not obvious about them is their age (have a guess how old these photos are). They were installed to celebrate the French in Hanoi, and are all around 100 years old (taken 1915-1916 using techniques developed by the Lumiere brothers).
There were a couple of other notable buildings in the Frech Quarter - the Government Guesthouse and the Sofitel Hotel (which was evidently a popular place for weddings, as I never walked past it without seeing at least one wedding couple being photographed):
That last fellow, Lý Thái Tổ, was an earlier Emporer: he moved the capital to Hanoi in 1010. I spent some time in the nearby park, completely intrigued by a group of gentlemen, as I could not quite work out what they were doing.
This may have been some sort of bicycle club, or maybe the bike on the right side of the picture was for sale, as several of the guys hopped on and road it around the park. If it was for sale, it did not sell: as far as I could tell, the same fellow who brought it in rode it away again.